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Estate of Sauser v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

March 22, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; SALLY JEWELL, as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior; and KEVIN WASHBURN, as Assistant Secretary of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs, Defendants.


Lawrence L. Piersol United States District Judge

Estate of Raymond P. Sauser and James Raymond Sauser (collectively, "Plaintiffs") seek an order from the Court compelling the United States, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Interior Bureau of f Indian Affairs (collectively, the "United States" or the "Government") to approve Raymond P. j Sauser's (the "Decedent") last will and testament (the "Will") and order certain Indian trust land not be disbursed to James Raymond Sauser ("James" or "Plaintiff"). Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for judgment on the pleadings, Doc. 17. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion is denied.


Decedent was an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. During his life, Decedent adopted two children, James and Jonathan Sauser ("Jonathan"). Jonathan is an enrolled member I of an Indian tribe. Plaintiff is not. On October 13, 2005, Decedent executed the Will.

Decedent died on March 15, 2008. At the time of his death, Decedent owned Indian trust personalty and trust real property interests (the "Trust Land"). On August 18, 2011, [ Administrative Law Judge, Richard D. Hines (the "ALJ"), issued a decision approving [ Decedent's will and distributing the Indian trust estate. The ALJ determined that, under the Will, "and consistent with the American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) of 2004, 25 U.S.C. § 2201 et seq., [Plaintiff James Sauser was] entitled to receive a life estate in Allotment No. 3075-B (referred to as the 'Home Place') and an undivided 1/2 share life estate in Decedent's other trust lands." IBIA Order Affirming Denial of Rehearing ("IBIA Decision"), Doc. 1-5, at 1 (citing ALJ Decision at 3-4).

On September 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed a petition for rehearing. In the petition, Plaintiff argued that the ALJ misinterpreted the Will and that it was, in fact, Decedent's intent that the Trust Land, except for the Home Place, pass solely to Jonathan. Plaintiff contended that Decedent's intent was such in order to ensure that the Trust Land stay in trust and that granting Plaintiff a one-half interest would be inconsistent with that intent. According to Plaintiff, Decedent feared that if the AIPRA were repealed, then the life estate granted to Plaintiff may come out of trust. Neither at the initial probate proceeding nor in the petition for rehearing did Plaintiff purport to renounce or disclaim any interest in Decedent's estate. The ALJ denied rehearing on December 20, 2011.

On January 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA or the "Board"). Then, on May 22, 2012, Plaintiff filed a "Renunciation or Disclaimer of Interests in Certain Trust Lands Pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 2206(j)(8)" (the "Renunciation"). Doc. 1-4. In the Renunciation, Plaintiff states that the Will clearly evinces an overriding intent that Jonathan receives all the Trust Land, except for the Home Place, to the exclusion of James. Further, in the Renunciation, it is claimed that the ALJ failed to adhere to this overriding intent and, as a result, Plaintiff appealed to the IBIA. The Renunciation then purports to "irrevocably and without qualification, renounce or disclaim any and all right, title, and interest in and to" the one-half share in life estate in the Trust Land, excluding the Home Place, in favor of Jonathan. Doc. 1-4 at 1-2.

On appeal, the IBIA found that the ALJ did not err in giving effect to provisions of the Will. In the decision, the IBIA held, "Simple disagreement with or bare assertions concerning a challenged decision are insufficient to carry [Plaintiffs] burden of proof." IBIA Decision, Doc. 1-5, at 3 (citing Estate of Drucilla (Trucilla) Pickard, 50 IBIA 82, 91 (I.B.I.A. 2009)). As to the Renunciation, the IBIA noted that it was submitted for the first time on appeal and, therefore, was untimely filed and could not be considered in the IBIA's decision. In so concluding, the IBIA found, '"To renounce an interest under [43 C.F.R.] § 30.181, [one] must file with the judge, before the issuance of the final order in the probate case, a signed and acknowledged declaration specifying the interest renounced.'" IBIA Decision, Doc. 1-5, at 4 (quoting 43 C.F.R. § 30.181) (alterations and emphasis in IBIA Decision). Under the Code of Federal Regulations, the IBIA continued, "judge" is defined as an ALJ or Indian Probate Judge (IPJ). As such, Plaintiffs failed to comply with 43 C.F.R. § 30.181 by filing the Renunciation for the first time with the IBIA. In addition, the IBIA found unpersuasive the argument that the appeal to the IBIA effectively precluded the ALJ's order from being "final." Id. (citing 43 C.F.R. § 30.240[1] (a final order on rehearing must include a notice stating that interested parties who are adversely affected have the right to appeal the final order to the Board)) ("[C]ontrary to [Plaintiffs] assertion that this appeal to the [IBIA] prevented a final order from being entered by the ALJ, the Order Denying Rehearing was a final order of the ALJ.").

A subsequent petition for reconsideration was dismissed by the IBIA on August 29, 2014 due to the petition being untimely filed. Estate of Raymond P. Sauser, 59 IBIA 116, 117 (I.B.I. A. 2014) ("Because Appellant's petition for reconsideration was not timely filed, the Board must dismiss it for lack of jurisdiction.") (citation omitted). The Estate of Raymond P. Sauser and James Raymond Sasuer filed this federal action on August 20, 2014, the same day that the petition for reconsideration was filed with the IBIA.


"Federal courts are not courts of general jurisdiction and have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto." Crow Creek Sioux Tribe v. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 463 F.Supp.2d 964, 966 (D.S.D. 2006). '"The party claiming federal subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving it exists.'" M.J. Farms, Ltd. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 593 F.Supp.2d 907, 910 (W.D. La. 2008) (quoting People's Nat'l Bank v. Office of Comptroller of Currency, 362 F.3d 333, 336 (5th Cir. 2004)). "A party challenging subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) must attack either the facial or factual basis for jurisdiction." Middlebrooks v. U.S., 8 F.Supp.3d 1169, 1173 (D.S.D. 2014) (citing Osborn v. U.S., 918 F.2d 724, 729 n. 6 (8th Cir. 1990)). Under a facial challenge, the reviewing court examines the complaint to determine if the plaintiff has satisfactorily alleged grounds for subject matter jurisdiction. Id. The nonmoving party is afforded the same protections she would receive were she defending against a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.[2] Id. A factual challenge, on the other hand, tests the factual basis the nonmoving party has asserted for subject matter jurisdiction. Matters outside of the pleadings may be considered by the reviewing court and the nonmoving party is afforded no Rule 12(b)(6)-type protections. Id.

"A motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted 'only where the moving party has clearly established that no material issue of fact remains and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law[, ]'" Waldron v. Boeing Co., 388 F.3d 591, 593 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Potthof v. Morin, 245 F.3d 710, 715 (8th Cir. 2001)), "the same standard used to address a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." Ashley County, Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). The reviewing court accepts as true all facts pled by the nonmoving party and all reasonable inferences are drawn in his favor. Waldron, 388 F.3d at 593 (citing Franklin High Yield Tax-Free Income Fund v. County of Martin, 152 F.3d 736, 738 (8th Cir. 1998)).


For purposes of subject matter jurisdiction, Plaintiffs argue that the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) have been satisfied. The Government agrees with Plaintiffs. "The APA waives sovereign immunity for actions against the United States for review of administrative actions that do not seek money damages and provides for judicial review in the federal district courts." Middlebrooks, 8 F.Supp.3d at 1174 (citing Suburban Mortg. Assocs., Inc. v. U.S. Dep't ofHous. & Urban Dev., 480 F.3d 1116, 1122 (Fed. Cir. 2007)). "The federal APA[, however, ] does not confer jurisdiction." § 8295 Subject Matter Jurisdiction, 33 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Judicial Review § 8295 (1st ed.). See Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 105, 107, 97 S.Ct. 980, 51 L.Ed.2d 192 (1977). Even actions brought under the APA must be based on independent grounds of federal jurisdiction. Fed. Prac. & Proc, supra, at § 8295. Such independent grounds may be in the form of a federal court's general jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Id. See Robbins v. Reagan, 780 F.2d 37, 42 (D.C. Cir. 1985); Preferred Risk Mut. Ins. Co. v. U.S. {Preferred Risk), 86 F.3d 789, 792 n. 2 (8th Cir. 1996) ("The APA is not an implied grant of subject-matter jurisdiction permitting federal ...

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